Groups allied with President Bush are encouraging their conservative members to do the seemingly unthinkable: attend a convention Saturday to help put left-leaning independent candidate Ralph Nader on the Oregon presidential ballot.
The groups -- with the encouragement of some Republican political operatives -- are telling their members that Nader would draw votes from Democrat Sen. John Kerry and boost Bush's chances of winning Oregon.
Polls show Bush and Kerry running close here, and both campaigns think the race could be affected by whether Nader makes the ballot. In April, Nader held a Portland convention that failed to attract the 1,000 registered voters required to put him on the November ballot. Democratic activists picketed the event and urged voters not to support Nader.
Nader plans to try again at 5 p.m. Saturday in Portland's Benson High School, and this time he has openly courted conservatives as well as voters who oppose Bush on such issues as the environment and the war in Iraq.
Officials from two groups that have been calling members -- the Oregon Family Council and Citizens for a Sound Economy -- said they had no qualms about trying to help Nader despite opposing most of what he stands for.
"We'd like to take a few votes away from John Kerry if it would be possible," said Tim Nashif of the Oregon Family Council, which has been making hundreds of phone calls to members urging them to help get Nader on the ballot.
The Oregon Family Council also puts out a guide for Christian voters and Nashif is a key organizer of the effort to qualify a ballot measure that would prohibit same-sex marriage in the state.
"Ralph Nader is undoubtedly going to pull some very crucial votes from John Kerry, and that could mean the difference in a razor-thin presidential election," reads a script used by Citizens for a Sound Economy in its phone calls. "Can we count on you to come out on Saturday night and sign the petition to nominate Ralph Nader?"
Russ Walker, state director of Citizens for a Sound Economy, which led the successful effort to repeal a state income tax increase approved by the 2003 Oregon Legislature, said the idea of helping Nader has been widely discussed among conservative groups and activists in Oregon.
"It's definitely an interesting scenario," Walker said. "We don't agree with Ralph Nader's positions on the issues -- he's socialistic and we're free marketers. . . . We think he'll take some of the more extreme votes from the other side."
Another official in the Oregon Family Council, Mike White, said he was encouraged by someone in the Oregon Republican Party to help boost turnout for Nader's convention. White said the effort was "some kind of party outreach thing."
Lee Coleman, a member of the Oregon State Republican Central Committee, said he received two calls this week from Republican sources urging him to help Nader.
One came from a member of the Washington County Young Republicans, according to Coleman, who said he has decided to oppose Bush this year. The other call, which Coleman said included a message left on his answering machine, included what turned out to be a number for the Bush-Cheney campaign office in Oregon.
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said no paid campaign staffers were making calls to encourage Republicans to help Nader. But he said some volunteers may well have made calls from the campaign's office.
"The campaign certainly understands that when Republican volunteers see that there are Democrat volunteers trying to restrict the choice and keep Ralph Nader off the ballot, that they should work to expand choice," Schmidt said.
In Arizona, Democratic voters have sued in an attempt to remove Nader from the ballot there. Democrats say they believe Nader got secret help from Republicans, a charge denied by Arizona Republicans.
Laura Capps, a Kerry spokeswoman, criticized the Republican help for Nader in Oregon, saying it was a "shame the Bush camp has to resort to such tactics to lure their base to support a third-party candidate."
Portland attorney Greg Kafoury, who heads the Nader campaign in Oregon, said he saw nothing wrong with the Republican outreach efforts.
"It's a free country," he said. "People do things in their own interest."
Nader, who spoke Thursday on one conservative talk radio show in Portland, has made a determined effort this year to persuade conservatives to abandon Bush. At the same time, Kafoury said Nader has had to contend with supporters of Kerry who are trying to keep him off the ballot.
For example, Kafoury said that the Nader campaign put up fliers on dozens of utility poles around the city advertising the Saturday event and that most were torn down within 12 hours.
"Four years ago, our signs stayed up for a month," he said. "Things are getting ugly out there."
© 2004 The Oregonian